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Just say NO: sometimes it’s the kindest word to hear
Just say NO: sometimes it’s the kindest word to hear

By Jean Bernard Talon

While socially it may seem more genteel to say ‘yes’, saying ‘no’ may be more appropriate in certain situations.

It can be very hard to initially to send one’s regrets to a wedding or a dinner party, but this will ultimately be more appreciated by your hosts. The only real regret in saying ‘yes’ when what you really mean is ‘no’ is the miscommunication that it can cause.

Whether we like it or not, we’ve all been in these sticky situations: saying yes to engagements we can’t fully commit to (ie; weddings, dinner parties, social outings) for whatever reason, be it for professional, personal or social reasons. Although saying ‘yes’ may seem more comforting in the moment, it may result in longer-term conundrums.

I won’t age nor localise myself too much by making an easy joke of Nancy Reagan’s “just say no” anti-drug stance in the 1980s.

My thought concerning the word ‘no’ is more of the Oprah Winfrey inspired emancipation from the psychological chains of people pleasing.

It is better in most situations to be honest about the ability for one to oblige another.

Let’s look at two typical examples, which can result in somewhat delicate moments:

A family member or friend requests you to travel half way around the world to attend a special event; in fear of disappointing them one utters a quasi ‘yes’ rather than gingerly replying with a regrettable ‘no’. A better way of handling this is to be honest and send one’s regrets, and follow up with a special gift where your kind thoughts will be appreciated.

A friend comes to town and asks if they might be a welcomed houseguest; in not wishing to be unfriendly, one answers: “the more the merrier”. Unfortunately, your already overloaded schedule really can’t take another commitment, and – as a result - your guest is asked to find alternate accommodation. Now, the awkward position: your friend is no longer able to find an alternative place to stay or an affordable booking at a hotel. Had you said no, you could have simply met for an amicable aperitif, which now may seem unlikely and cause longer-term damage.

These are just two illustrations; of course, there are many.

To the same extent, one doesn’t always get everything they want in life. One should be prepared to hear ‘no’ once in a while and not take it personally. May I suggest that one take the word ‘no’ under consideration that self-entitlement is far more crass than someone respectfully being honest.

Kindness is one of the best human qualities and has an effect on our intimate and social relationships. The problem that can arise from always trying to be nice is that in a bizarre twist we can actually disappoint others - and ultimately ourselves - by not being realistic with our doses of yeses and noes.

*first posted on November 4, 2009

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What I find dynamic about saying ‘no’ or hearing ‘no’ is that it clearly establishes boundaries and trust. Initially it may seem a bit harsh or direct, but as suggested in this column, the longer term effects are hugely beneficial to a healthy social or business relationship. Thanks for sharing these insights.

  • Jay Remer
  • 06 Nov, 2009
  • 2:04 pm

I agree with you completely, unfortunately we tend to understand these concepts later in life, because often children are not taught that there can be fine balances in life - this being one of them.

  • Jean Bernard Tallon
  • 06 Nov, 2009
  • 3:11 pm

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